West End Wonder

Santa Rosa's grassroots Farmers Market moves to Railroad Square

When Allen Thomas moved to Santa Rosa from San Francisco in 1990, he settled in the West End neighborhood, the block of houses and businesses that stretches from the west side of Highway 101 to Dutton Avenue, and from West Third Street up to West College.

The urban setting in a small community appealed to him, though at the time, West End was considered the wrong side of the tracks for many living in Santa Rosa. Much has changed there in the last 26 years, thanks in part to the many community events that Thomas and others have initiated, most visibly the West End Farmers Market, which Thomas co-founded in 2012.

Previously located on Donahue Street near the historic DeTurk Round Barn, the West End Farmers Market is moving to Railroad Square at Wilson and West Fourth streets, offering more space and more vendors for the weekly event that takes place every Sunday morning starting April 3.

“When I moved in, many homes were considered undesirable, but through the years, things have changed for the better,” says Thomas of the West End.

Thomas says local businesses like Franco American Bakery and Western Farm Center and the city itself have all been involved in the neighborhood’s transformation. “It’s not just one person,” he says, “it’s a whole group that have moved the neighborhood in the right direction.”

The West End Farmers Market is a culmination of many of those efforts, says Thomas. “We’ve always tried to make this a positive place for families and kids, with picnics, bike parades, things like that,” he says. “So a farmers market just seemed like the right thing for the neighborhood and the whole community.

“The whole market has been a labor of love for a lot of people,” Thomas continues. “There was a whole group of people that came out to help and volunteer, and I think they all cherish having this market in an area that’s within walking distance of their homes.”

The market also offers low-income patrons a chance to enjoy the offerings with a special EBT program that matches funds for those with food stamps. By collecting donations from various businesses, the market allows food-stamp users to swipe their cards at the market in exchange for tokens, and the market will match up to $20 of what the user spends, meaning that $20 spent yields $40 worth of purchases. This way, those with less can still take advantage of the fresh, locally grown produce and foods at the market, and the farmers can still make a profit on their goods.

Now, with the farmers market moving to Railroad Square, Thomas hopes the larger community will join in on the fun, and he anticipates a day when the SMART train will drop folks off right at the market’s doorstep.

“It’s been a dream of mine,” he says, “and of many in the community to have something by the new station that celebrates the agricultural ties of Sonoma County to the whole Bay Area and makes Santa Rosa a focal point.”

The West End Farmers Market starts Sunday, April 3, at Railroad Square, 9:30am to 2pm. www.wefm.co.